The Awful Records founder opens up about starting the label/collective and the drug habit that almost derailed his art.
text by Kristen Stegemoeller / photography by Jiro Schneider / styling by Aisha Rae and Drew Manares
08 September 2016
The Awful Records founder opens up about starting the label/collective and the drug habit that almost derailed his art.
Awful Records' fearless leader and most savage lyrical stylist has been on one hell of a ride. He sees his three albums -- his 2014 debut Young Hot Ebony, 2015's Who's Gonna Get Fucked First and this year's I'm a Piece of Shit -- as an art imitating life "trilogy" representing "pure thought, drugged-out thoughts and trying to get to recovery." Now that he's come full circle, he's "back to making the music I started off making," which might mean more tracks like his infectious, breakout hit with iLoveMakonnen, "Look at Wrist." We talk to him about the collective's origin story, the drug phase that nearly derailed his music and what he's working on now.
What's the Awful Records origin story?
I started off doing graphic design and video production for my friends [like] KeithCharles Spacebar --
You went to school for that right?
Not really. I started off in science, pharmacy and shit like that, then I was like, "I can't do this." I changed up all my classes and I switched to art, which I've been doing all my life. So I'm doing all of this [video production/design] for them, and the years keep going, they're staying with me, and I was just like, "I want to try my hand at this [making music], too." So I started producing, it takes me a couple months to pick it up where it's not just a bunch of dumbass beats. I found a sound. It still took me a couple more years before I started recording. There were two years of fuckshit where I dropped out of school, quit my job, and like struggled to survive in Atlanta. Living off $20 for an entire week, shit like that. There was a brief period where everything started to kind of fall apart, people just spaced out everywhere, because everybody's lives were just fucked up. So everybody went in their own directions. During that time period is when I really started to hone in on the craft, doing it myself. Sitting in my room, me and my girlfriend, and nobody ever came to bother me because we lived on the other side of town. In that isolation, it actually helped me come up with what sound I had that made me pop. That's when I met iLoveMakkonnen and all that stuff started popping off. Throughout all of this, I was just meeting everybody that was in Awful around town through networking.
So Awful the collective was officially created in 2011, when did it become the label? Around "Look at Wrist"?
A little bit before then. I wrote this tape called Little Ditty. I guess that's when stuff started to really bubble and people are like, "Oh wow, this guy's really good, it's getting kind of serious now."
How would you describe your current role in Awful, aside from being an artist?
Picking up the name Father caused me to become a kind of father figure to a lot of people. Not necessarily in like the sense of 'daddying' people, but in terms of a psychological level of respect. In the sense where it's like, "Yo, daddy doesn't approve, fuck it. Talk to Dad." It's not particularly me being like, "Yo, that's terrible, don't put that out, don't do this, don't do that." It's more like I yell at people. When people do some dumb shit, I just sit there and yell. I spend most of my time on the phone just yelling, like "why the fuck are you doing that? What's wrong with you?"
Do you like that role?
Yeah, I enjoy it. It was meant for me I guess. I stepped right into it.
What about in terms of creative direction? Do you spearhead that?
I think initially when I set everything up, I set a standard. So when people make things from this point forward, they just kind of align to that look and that whole idea of what we've founded ourselves off of. We're starting to get towards a point where our content is looking better -- everything looks better, sounds better. Sounds cleaner. So if somebody's like, "I wanna release this rough, terrible ass album with a cameraphone video," I'm obviously gonna be like, "No, you're not going to do that. Not on my label." I'm not about to retweet that. There's a level of freedom still though. I'm saying, "do what you want, but I wouldn't recommend it, and I won't endorse it, but do what you want." Basically, it's still gonzo but there's more structure to it.
Father wears a jacket and shirt by AllSaints and glasses by Retrosuperfuture
So let's talk about your albums. We went from Who's Gonna Get Fucked First?, "32 minutes of pure, unfiltered debauchery," to I'm a Piece of Shit, "the melancholy result of all my fucked up decisions." Take me through what was going on in your life and in your music that led from one to the next.
After I finished Young Hot Ebony, which went over really well but at the same time I didn't want to create another album that sounded like it, I thought if I changed my state of mind, how I viewed everything...I wanted to get out of the frame of mind that I was in. You know how sometimes people self-sabotage themselves in order to...
You burn it all down.
Yeah! You burn it down to build it back up again. That's basically what I did on purpose. I got so deep into it, that I kind of forgot in the first place that it wasn't me. By the time I got through the WGGFF saga -- it was like Dragonball Z, just a saga of my life. I was so depressed, and I was like, "why am I so depressed?" But the timeline went like this: finished Young Hot Ebony -- I think on the intro song, I said something like, "Don't mix vodka and percocet, it almost had me dead." -- then I proceeded to for the entire next mix every possible drug, and pill and powder I could get my hands on and that proceeded to cause me to do a lot of fuckshit. But it was a conscious decision I made at the time. It was like, instead of drinking and smoking so much, I'm just gonna start taking Xanax and popping pain killers and see what that does to my brain chemistry, to cause me to make different music. I guess it ended up doing that, but then I kinda got lost for an entire year in the process. I released WGGFF, which is pretty much a tale of all the bullshit that I did in the year that I was fucked up in that whole process after Young Hot, but, basically, a bunch of dirty ass love songs.
After I got through that period of my life, I was still hooked on the things that I decided to do on purpose. By that time, I thought it was still something I was doing for recreation, something I enjoyed. It crept up on me, and I didn't realize that I had gone into a whole different part of my life, that I wasn't really ready for. It caused me to become a complete dickhead, asshole person, just doing whatever the fuck I wanted. I didn't care about anybody's feelings, just like breaking hearts. I became a complete nightmare to the people around me. I guess I got to a certain point where everything started to really culminate to this point where I was like, "Ahh, I'm so unhappy" and that kind of led to I'm a Piece of Shit, which took basically all of last year to record. I was doing songs here and there. But the fucking drugs and everything started to slow down my creative process. I was doing so much fuckshit, that I wasn't really making a lot of music. I mean, I was making a lot of music, but it wasn't as honed in on specific things, it was just all about how sad I was at the fact that I did everything that I did the year before. Just very, very, very regretful-ass music that I made.
Yeah, it was a real "party's over" type of thing. I think there was a Fool's Gold show in Atlanta where a whole sector of Atlanta that did not like us got into a brawl with Awful outside the show in the middle of the street. I was wearing a jacket that had been given to me by this brand Crucial and it had a patch on it that said, "Don't trust me, I'm a piece of shit." I looked at it in the mirror. This was like my lowest night, I was feeling so sad. I drank like a whole bottle of Ciroc before my show, because I was so mad, I just knew something was going to happen that night, we're gonna start fighting. We had just been beefing with these people for a long time and they put us on the same bill. It's gonna happen, and I just knew that's the title, that's what my life has come to. Me recognizing that I'm an asshole.
A lot of shit in my life had kind of degraded and fucked up. I had a lot more money but I paid less attention to stuff and so everything just degraded to hell. Like my household just turned into shit, people just be all in my face. I started to come home and just realize, I don't know who you are. I came home one time and there were like three people there, and I was like, "I don't know who any of you are." And they were like, "We've met like 5 times" and I was like "Ahhh... wow."
[Another time] I took a trip to New York with Abra and I bought some bad drugs. I think they were all re-pressed and fake, so that caused me to forcibly go through a withdrawal because I couldn't get what I wanted. And I made it to LA withdrawing. I got here, and I thought "Ah, I'll just hit my plug, and everything will go away, the depression will go away, the sleeplessness, and all the other shit will just stop." I was tweaking, I had so much anxiety that it was crippling. I couldn't talk to people. People were just looking at me, and I was just staring at them. I'm in my head just like, "Oh my god, I'm going through it, going through it, going through it" and they're just getting mad at me.
They think I'm being a dick, but inside I'm just going through hell. I'm in my head like "Help! Get me out of this!" But I couldn't speak. I texted Keith and I was like, "Man, I'm going through it," and he was like, "Hey man, Just stop partying." I was like, "I'm not partying though man, I'm still going through it." And he's just like, "No man, you're still partying." And I'm just like "No, man. I'm not partying, I'm not enjoying anything, I don't even go to parties, what do you mean?" He meant more like metaphorically, not like literally I go out and party every night because I don't go anywhere. He meant just get out of this cycle that you keep going through, where you do some shit and take a week break and then don't even realize it but you go back to it, so you really have never been sober. It stays in your system for so long that you think, "Nah, it's alright, I can go back." Nah, after that, I was like, "No. I'm just gonna chill and stop and calm down."
When was this?
This was January of this year. After that, my mind got clear again, I went back home and that's when I realized, just like, "Why are there 30 people in my house just chillin? In my couch, on my floor, in my studio, just walking around like they own the place. Like, I don't know you. Maybe I met you when I was fucked up, but I don't know who you are, I don't trust you, I don't know who the fuck, go away." That just became so aggravating. I was mad at everyone, mad at myself. I was completely pissed the fuck off. I was sitting in my room upstairs and I was just hearing noise downstairs. Everybody was just laughing and giggling, and having fun. And I was just like, "Why are you laughing? There's nothing to have fun about right now, ain't nobody doing shit. Go do something active, y'all just getting drunk and playing music, I don't want to hear this shit." So I was getting pissed off and I went downstairs, picked up the speaker they were playing music off of and threw it out the window.
I've done that a couple times actually -- I've thrown TVs out the window, I be trippin' sometimes when I'm home. I think I went back upstairs and just started making a song. It was just like drums, and I was just screaming, "I'm mad as hell!" and it just led to me starting the next project which is, Mad As Hell.
How are you approaching your music now?
It's like a trilogy. Pure thought, drugged out thoughts, trying to get to recovery. And now I'm back, I feel like I'm back to square one where I'm making the music I started off making.
Grooming by Tamy K. Shirey
Hair by Adrian Arredondo
Location: The Forge